Friday, March 6, 2009

Film #112: Henry V (1989)

Kenneth Branaugh had been acting on stage, TV and screen--all mostly in Britain--just a little over five years before he captured the public eye with his masterful 1989 directorial debut Henry V. It ended up netting him two Oscar nominations, for Best Actor and Best Director (the film only ended up winning one award for its costumes). This energetic helping of Shakespearean political intrigue has Branaugh in the title role as the very unlikely, newly-crowned King of England, whose lusty manner and unfaltering bravery help to forge an alliance with the hostile French throne, thereby cementing his transition from blue-blooded drunk to crafty monarch.

From its opening moments with Derek Jacobi impressing as a modern-day-dressed Chorus, Henry V establishes a refreshing, intimate quality--a good humor, even. Few Bard adaptations can match it in its accessibility. Particularly of note is the unforgettable, gritty slow-motion battle on the fields of Agincourt, preceded by Branaugh's impassioned delivery of the famed "St. Crispin's Day" speech. Afterwards, you can look forward to King Henry's smashing attempts to woo France's obstinate, non-English-speaking Princess Katherine (played by Emma Thompson, who was then married to Branaugh). British acting legends Brian Blessed, Paul Scofield, Christian Bale, Robbie Coltrane, and Ian Holm also star here in Branaugh's best film outing (though his versions of Hamlet and Much Ado About Nothing come close).

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